Lucas Lonnigan thinks he’s finally gotten the best of his twin brother, until he discovers his half of a date-swap is none other than metal artist Belinda Riggs. A leather-dipped Goth queen who considers him a cross between a pin cushion and a science project—and the woman he’s loved forever.
Belinda isn’t exactly overjoyed to see him, either. In her opinion, love means becoming a punching bag, and she won’t be anyone’s doormat. Lucas is too dangerously tempting to allow within striking distance of her heart, but that doesn’t stop her from wanting.
After one blazing night of passion, Lucas finds himself locked out of Belle’s life with seemingly no chance to get back in. With nothing left to lose, Lucas makes a final play and appeals to the one thing Belle can’t say no to—a dare. Winner take all.
Lucas may think this crazy game will decide their relationship, but she sees it as her chance to finally set him free—and maybe indulge in the sexiest goodbye of her life…
“Dee Tenorio manages the impossible in All or Nothing. She takes two patently disagreeable characters and makes them utterly endearing, even in their grouchiness…When Lucas and Belinda actually make things work between them, it’s absolutely beautiful to read. Not to mention, the passion between Lucas and Belinda is volcanic in nature and it’s fantastic to watch the explosion. All and all, I found All or Nothing to be a wonderful rollercoaster of emotions and I plan on going for another ride again soon! “
—Shayna, Joyfully Reviewed
Copyright © 2010 Dee Tenorio
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
It was all Lucas Lonnigan could think, standing in front of Vino’s Italian Bar & Grille. At best, the grill provided pretty good steaks, maybe some chicken, but mostly happy hour food for strong drinkers, serious sports freaks and the occasional wild party.
At worst, it was about to become his idea of Hell.
The woman waiting inside would make sure of that. Unfortunately, common decency required him to walk in and let his “date” hand him his balls in a sling.
Kyle is going to die.
A long, torturous death, too, involving fingernail removal, hot metal and some liberal use of acid, if Lucas had any say.
He swore again. Bitterly. Lucas had come—even dressed up with a suit jacket—prepared to look for his twin brother’s date description. Never one to rush into a situation, particularly when Kyle made the arrangements, he looked through the glass door of the building, hoping to have an idea of where to direct his attention. Brunette, Kyle had said. Long legs, he’d said. Smarter than you, he’d added with a smug grin that only now began to make sense. The only woman sitting alone in the entire restaurant who could fit that bill was the last woman he should be expected to sit politely at a table with, least of all in public. Belinda Lynn Riggs: childhood tormentor; teenage fantasy girl; adult wet dream. More succinctly, the scourge of his existence.
He didn’t rate particularly high on her list, either.
Belle sat in a booth, smoking a cigarette despite the clear signs she wasn’t allowed, her ebony hair styled forward into her face with enough product to defy jet-wash. It gleamed, all the way across the room, catching his eye in an instant. He hadn’t seen her in a few weeks, he should have expected she’d cut it again. Fat layers of the fine strands were sliced at jagged edges in large chunks, looking like she’d colored it with magic marker instead of hair dye. Knowing her, ink was a distinct possibility. One of these days, he fully expected her to turn up shaved bald as a baby and call it style. In his opinion, it would be an improvement.
He stayed outside the glass door, standing in the shadows, staring into the bright room beyond, unwillingly mesmerized by the way she stared forward and sipped her longneck beer. For all her brashness, her nearly feline grace never failed to make his body leap to attention. Even when she was flipping him off, he had to force his brain not to remember just how dexterous she could be with those hands.
She was mostly dressed tonight, he realized with a start. A black sleeveless shirt clung to her skinny form, outlining her small breasts, probably right down to the minute swell lifting the surrounding circles of her nipples. Even after all these years, he could still remember how soft they felt against his lips. The flavor of her in his mouth… He closed his eyes, hating the pull in his gut, wishing he couldn’t remember so well. That ship had sailed years ago.
Plus, she’d tear him a new one if she caught him starting at her breasts like some sex-obsessed teenager. It wouldn’t matter that when it came to her, sex-obsessed and teenager weren’t exactly inappropriate. But allowing himself the luxury of remembering her naked—or at the very least, half-naked—was not his smartest move. He’d only spend hours aching because of it. Then again, he sighed as he slipped his hands into his pants pockets, everyone needed a vice. It just so happened, Belinda Riggs was his. Always had been, always would be.
People walked around him to get into the bar, no one seeming to notice the woman alone in the booth. It was probably driving her crazy. Even as a little girl, she’d hated being ignored. She hadn’t known then that people didn’t see her on purpose, unwilling to take responsibility for the bruises and scuffs she shouldn’t have had on her face or her arms. She knew it as an adult though, and she took every opportunity to make sure everyone saw her now, wearing her sexuality like a suit of armor while she declared war. It was the only explanation Lucas could figure for the way she dressed. He hated it, but he understood it.
Tonight’s mask of choice was Modest Industrial Goth. Her shirt was typical, ripped across the midriff to make the young bucks think they had a prayer with her. God forbid she let a day pass without exposing her pale belly to the undeserving masses. Her pants were leather, the front connected to the back at the two-inch wide waistband. The sides of the legs were woven together with tiny leather lacings, baring her flesh all the way down her side. Good, quality leather, fitting her like the skin it was, traveled the near endless path of her legs before disappearing into the knee-high boots she wore.
Jack boots, she’d once told him, modeling them with a smirk, no doubt thinking he hated them. Covered with criss-crossing buckles, they were her only boots with a stiletto heel. All her others could be used to climb mountains or frighten midgets. He let her think he hated them. It meant she wore them more often.
Tonight, she wore them for Kyle, having no idea Lucas’s dumb-ass brother had sent him instead.
She turned her head, her dark eyes finding him outside the door as if there weren’t a single person milling around between them. He felt her gaze. He always did. She’d changed his life with that glare, as often as she could. Probably because she could.
She gave nothing away, no surprise, no disappointment. She stared at him, pulled her cigarette to her darkened lips and inhaled with a nod. Her way of accepting what happened and letting him come to her.
He didn’t question his understanding. They rarely had to speak, always knowing what the other meant with a look or an expression. She fought it, as loudly as possible, but it was a fact they couldn’t get away from, no matter how they tried. Lord, how they tried.
He’d known her since second grade, when her family moved in next door to his parent’s suburban home. Back in those days, her nose was still pert and straight, her hair was the color of sunlight and she wore pink ribbons in it everyday, with pink ruffles on her dresses and pink saddle shoes on her feet. The mulish look on her face was about the only thing that hadn’t changed.
“The punk backed out on me, didn’t he?” she asked when Lucas reached her table, putting her cigarette out in a glass of water. On the one hand, he was grateful. Ripping it out of her mouth and smashing it under his shoe always seemed to start them out on the wrong foot.
On the other hand…it was his water.
Lucas levered himself into the booth, less concerned about hurting her while he fit his legs under the table than he was about ripping his pants on her boots.
“Traded you,” he corrected, finally situated. He pushed the soiled water glass to the wall edge of the table next to the saltshaker.
She lost her practiced look of boredom. “Come again?”
Wouldn’t I like to? Lucas hitched a shoulder. “We traded blind dates for the night.”
“Kyle set us up.” Impressive move, actually, for a man Lucas regularly referred to as a moron. He reached for a chip of her Irish nachos, stealing the black chili beans and sour cream with the flick of his hand. Her eyes followed the theft, probably measuring to the milligram how much he owed her.
“Why would he do that? He knows we don’t do well when we’re left alone together.”
“He’s not completely stupid, Belle.” Despite most evidence to the contrary. But Kyle knew the score between Lucas and Belinda. Probably better than they themselves did. His only mistake was thinking he could force them to deal with their issues.
Someday, Kyle would realize he needed an act of God to make them work out anything.
Lucas held no hopes for the night. He knew it was likely she’d yell at him, rail at him, possibly even smack him a time or two, then she’d leave him in need of an ice pack and go about her way. Business as usual. But it didn’t change the hunger he felt for her. Nothing cured that.
She glared at him, the black make-up beneath her eyes adding some death to the blades she included in her stare. “Why’d you go along with it? Aren’t you worried he’ll steal your goody-two-shoes girlfriend?”
He snitched another chip, nonplussed. “She’s not my girlfriend. And no, I’m not. Jessica is more likely to cut him off at the knees and leave him bleeding in the street than fall for his line of crap. Kyle can stand a bruise or two. ”
Her expression managed to stiffen. “Sounds like you think pretty highly of her.”
He’d think even better of Jessica Saunders if she put the dent in Kyle’s ego Lucas anticipated. “She’s extremely intelligent.”
“I thought you only used that word in front of the bathroom mirror.” She leaned out of the booth, biting her lower lip and whistling sharp enough to break glass. “Vino, I need a JW. Black!”
“Sure thing, B. You want anything, buddy?”
“My foot up his ass,” Belinda grumbled, righting herself in her seat.
“Whatever’s on tap. And a steak. Medium-rare.” Lucas shrugged off his brief irritation. Vino never remembered him. Almost no one remembered Lucas, no matter how many times he went anywhere. He must have come to Vino’s with Belle and Kyle more than a hundred times over the years. Still, he was a general “buddy”.
“What was your plan tonight?” he asked, meeting her deadpan stare. “Romantic dinner, seductive conversation and then the rest of the night at your loft?” He tried not to sound bitter. He had no right to be jealous or care who she took to her bed, but the thought of her with Kyle soured his blood.
Belinda wasn’t amused. “So what if it was? It’s not any business of yours.”
It wasn’t, but he still had to force his hand not to crush the chip. Hell, he had to force himself not to grab the table and fling it through the crowd to crash satisfyingly on the street in a rain of glass. She ought to be damn grateful he had that kind of control, but she wasn’t. She never was.
She leaned forward, a predatory gleam in her dark eyes, her body curving over the flat edge of the table while she set her hand over his. “Maybe it should be.”
She always had to push a little harder, take him that much closer to the edge.
“Maybe I should tell you what sick little games I had in mind for Kyle.”
Only then, when the whole world knew he was miserable, was she ever satisfied.
“You know, since you’re so goddamned interested.”
The back of his hand burned under hers. She never touched him. It was a rule, with exception only to boxing his ears from time to time. Heat shot up his arm, warming his blood and shocking his heart into a breakneck pace. He pulled back, but she was strong from her daily hours of bending metal to her artistic whims. He proved no less susceptible to her power.
“I was thinking he and I would go back to my place and see how many square feet two people can sweat on in one night.” She dragged his hand closer, her black nailed fingers pulling him across the table until he was half-standing and she was grasping his coat lapels so she could rasp her sex-laden voice in his ear. “There are special swings hanging all over the place. Handcuffs and black leather wristbands on the headboard. I’ve got pillows everywhere. Satin ones. Red with those little black bows you like so much. You know, the ones that get you so hard you can barely walk.”
Damn her. He could feel her breast on his arm. A coat and a long sleeve shirt had nothing on the round little pebble or her warm breath on his cheek. And she had to bring up that bow.
“You should see it, Lucas. It’s a candlelit friggin’ wonderland. A perfect erotic fantasy built just for Kyle.”
The burst of anger at her words was enough to break him free. He wrapped his hands around her wrists and yanked her loose. “Don’t play with me, Belle.”
Her eyes widened as he gave her a brief shake, which sickened him. Damn it, he hated when she feared him. She must have recognized his remorse because the fear was short lived.
Fury flared brighter in her eyes. “Don’t accuse me of things you know nothing about.”
They stared, a battle of wills because he didn’t want to admit she was right. He was out of line. Probably right, but still out of line. He let go of her hands and they both slumped back into their respective seats, still staring at one another.
She looked away first. Which meant he got to win…and feel horrible for it. He tried to think up something to say, some way to be as remote from her as he was from everyone else, but that was a secret skill he’d never learned.
“Why do you have to make this so hard?” she asked, her voice a rare fragile whisper. So quiet, so…wounded. As if he were the one who inflicted all the pain in their relationship. Or whatever you could call what they had. “You make everything this way and it doesn’t have to be.”
“I wasn’t the one crawling on the table just now.” He looked down at his fists, balled together in front of him. Better to look there than to look at her. She was angry. Hurt. If he saw it, he’d take the blame. He might deserve it, but dammit, she was cruel with her retribution.
How often were they in this position? How many times over the years had they found themselves arguing over nothing. Unable to connect, unable to separate. Sometimes, he wondered if he would be able to take being free of her. What would his life be like; better or worse? All he knew now was how much he loathed this limbo they lived in. Detested how the tables always turned, making him the bad guy. Despised how often he got pinioned into the role, just to keep her fantasies alive.
Still, no matter what she said, how she blamed him or the futility of their friendship, he wanted her. Wanted to devour her. Wanted…God, all these years and he still didn’t know exactly what he wanted from her. Everything maybe, if he could figure out what that was.
But she didn’t want him. She wanted to choose how and who she loved. Wanted to shape it, shine it, force it into a form she could accept instead of one she couldn’t control. She’d never been able to control him—not for lack of trying—and that meant she wouldn’t have him.
He’d tried, once, to be what she wanted. For an hour, it was the most incredible heaven he could ever have imagined. And then it was hell.
Unadulterated, unforgiving hell.
It still was.
“You know what I mean, Lucas.” She dared to glance at him, but had to look away almost immediately. Lying is probably easier that way. “We…we could be friends.”
He snorted, grabbing her beer and taking a deep drought. Hadn’t they ordered drinks? He looked over at the bar for Vino, who nodded and waved a towel at a waiter. So, Vino hadn’t missed their tense little embrace? Ah well, at least Lucas wouldn’t be forgotten in here again any time soon.
“We could have been,” she insisted stubbornly. One might even say stupidly, but he hesitated to direct that word in her direction. She’d laugh if he ever revealed the pause.
“If we lied to each other.” To ourselves, he added silently. Not a stretch for her, she lied to herself everyday. But he wasn’t in the practice of self-delusion. The cold hard truth was with him every moment of every day or he’d forget himself and try for things he could never have.
“What happened between us was a long time ago.” Her voice firmed, but it was still low, private. A whisper that reminded him of her lips against his ear while she gasped the last lulls of her orgasm. He sucked in a breath, forcing himself to concentrate on her words instead of his own foolish memories. “You have to let it go, Lucas.”
Did he now? “Because our past interferes with your planned love affair with my brother?”
“Yes!” she spat, as bitter in voice as he felt inside. Their gazes met and locked; angry and desperate.
God, they were a pair. She tried so hard to love an ideal. He tried harder not to love her. Neither one of them pulled it off.
“As long as Kyle knows how you feel about me, he’ll never—”
The waiter stopped at the table, dropping two napkins, placing her whiskey shot on one and a frosted glass of hops on the other, in front of him.
“Never what?” he asked when the kid was gone, a chill that shouldn’t happen in June snaking through him.
Her expression closed. “Nothing. It doesn’t matter.”
“You brought it up, Belle.” He grabbed her shot and downed it. He should have let her brush her words under a rug. He should, but evidently he was a glutton for punishment. He had to hear the words crisp and clear, so he wouldn’t forget them. So he could play them over and over and convince himself they were true. If he were lucky, he thought, grabbing the beer, gulping deep, he’d be at least a little numbed before the pain hit.
She watched him, mouth pulled down at the corners, looking pained but determined. “As long as you want me, he’ll never see me as anything more than a friend. And that’s killing me.”
Nope, not fast enough.
The lash of hurt wasn’t kind enough to blind him, either, so he saw her head dip when his teeth grit with audible cracking sounds; saw the shine of her eyes before she darted her gaze away. He could take a lot from Belinda. Her pushy ways, the in-your-face attitude she wore to cover an inner fragility he craved to protect. Hell, he could even take a few blows to the face, when he had them coming. But he could not take her tears.
Especially when they fell for another man.
He slid out of the booth, yanked his wallet from his pocket and threw down a few bills to cover the drinks and the food he wouldn’t eat. Belinda stared up at him, eyes still gleaming, the true pink of her lips starting to show through her black lipstick. Then he grabbed her hand and pulled her to her feet. Not easy in those spikes, but she landed well, ending up eye to eye with him thanks to the four-inch help. Confusion showed on her face, probably all that was keeping her quiet.
“Come on.” He pulled her behind him, opening the door and guiding her out.
“Where are we going?”
“Home.” Her home, his home, he didn’t care. They were only a couple of blocks apart. Just one more sign of their weird little symbiosis. Loving to drive each other insane.
But it was time to end it.
If it meant burning all the passion out of each other as fast as humanly possible, he’d do it. Odds were it was the only way he was going to stop wanting her. Stop craving her. Hell, stop loving her. Then maybe she could finally have what she wanted most in life.